Zephaniah 3:17

‘He will calm you in his love.’

It’s easy to be told that God loves us, but what does that mean? How can we understand and experience His love more in the depth of our souls? This verse can help.

The first, perhaps slightly surprising thing to note is that it literally says He [God] will be silent in His love. The context helps make sense of that. Zephaniah’s prophesy is one of extreme judgement taking on apocalyptic proportions, ‘I will utterly sweep away everything off the surface of the earth… all the earth will be devoured with the fire’(Zephaniah 1:2-3:8). But there’s hope, specifically for those who ‘Seek Yahweh’(Zephaniah 2:3) and ‘take refuge in the name of Yahweh’(Zephaniah 3:12), not those who ‘didn’t obey the voice… didn’t receive correction… didn’t trust in Yahweh… didn’t draw near’(Zephaniah 3:2). Those who believe, trust and follow, those exercising faith (not perfection), will be sheltered on the day of judgement. God will not say anything against them, nor allow anyone else to do so. David knew this love. He was far from perfect, but walked by faith and knew the blessing of being one ‘whose sin is covered’(Psalm 32:1). Paul asks, ‘Who could bring a charge against God’s chosen ones?… Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?’(Romans 8:33-35). His point is that no-one can. His words reveal some amazing facts about this loving silence. First it’s totally undeserved. We’re chosen to be God’s people, through no merit of our own. Even our faith is a loving gift, as Paul elaborates elsewhere, ‘he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, [He] made us alive together with Christ… by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God’(Ephesians 2:4-8). Even more, our protected status was achieved on the cross by Jesus Christ absorbing, in the heart of God, the judgement due to us: ‘Grace to you and peace from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins’(Galatians 1:3-4).

However, this love we are to feel is not just silence/peace instead of fiery judgement. Further study of the ‘you’ in our text reveals that we’re given eternal peace in abundant paradise, bathed in God’s light forever. The ‘you’ is, in foreshadowed form, the community of New ‘Jerusalem’(Zephaniah 3:16). As Paul continues in his letter to the Galatians quoted above, Jesus came to take us by the hand and, ‘deliver us out of this present evil age’(Galatians 1:4), and Peter adds, ‘out of darkness into his marvellous light’(1 Peter 2:9). All people experience some blessings from God now, temporal blessings, ‘“rains from the sky and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness”’(Acts 14:17). As God’s nascent people made spiritually alive in Christ we’re especially able to appreciate this. In addition we enjoy a foretaste of eternity’s spiritual food, loving supplied like mother’s milk: ‘as newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the Word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious’(1 Peter 2:2-3). Ultimately however we look forward to the blessings of New Jerusalem, with the ‘tree of life… yielding it’s fruit’(Revelation 22:2), ‘illuminated’(Revelation 21:23) by God, ‘forever and ever’(Revelation 22:5).

So, God has sought us, taken the punishment for our sins so that we are sheltered from its consequences, He’s taken us by the hand and is lovingly leading us through this present evil age to an eternal paradise of unimaginable blessings. Feel His love now? But there’s even more…

He will rejoice over you with joy. He will calm you in his love. He will rejoice over you with singing(Zephaniah 3:17). Our study text is embraced by God’s delight in us. God delights in his creative genius generally: ‘it was very good’(Genesis 1:31), but He delights in us especially as a ‘bride adorned for her husband’(Revelation 21:2). He has done the ‘washing’(Ephesians 5:26) and cleaning, perfuming and adorning, but as God surveys His work in us and we respond to His love with ours, He rejoices with delight. We need to feel and enjoy this – it pleases Him even more. This is true of us as a body (the community of New Jerusalem collectively), but it’s also true for us as individuals. God delights in each of us as unique people He’s crafting into our distinctive roles, all the more as we learn ‘what is well pleasing to the Lord’(Ephesians 5:10) and do it by the enabling of His Holy ‘Spirit’(Ephesians 5:9).

So let’s ‘comprehend… and … know’(Ephesians 3:18-19) this love: all-embracing shelter, superabundant blessings, eternal mutual joy and delight.